It's time to note one recent event and two upcoming.
First of all, on Sunday, Feb. 8, St. Jude Parish, Rochester, hosted a dialogue session for young Catholics and Muslims, and I was pleased to be an adult guest there. It was a very enjoyable initial session and the young people are looking forward to further opportunities to consider how Islam and Christianity converge and differ. The food was great, too. Thanks to the Muslim adult leaders, and to Dan Frachey and Father Dean Probst of St. Jude.
Pope Francis continues to be an effective communicator to the world. Over this past month, as we have been reflecting upon the terrorist attacks in Paris, we have certainly been moved to re-assert human rights to freedom of expression. Pope Francis, however, brings up a very important point which must be interpreted in light of the goal which must be before all of us: that we must learn how to communicate effectively, and with love, across religious boundaries.
All of us should be aware of the existence of an event called the "Parliament of the World's Religions." After all, it originated in Illinois.
The first "World's Parliament of Religions" took place Sept. 11-27, 1893, in Chicago, during the great world's fair called the World's Columbian Exposition. According to Wikipedia, "Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide."
With its two volumes and 4,400 pages, the just-published Norton Anthology of World Religions may seem quite imposing. I am only 100 pages into it, and I am happy to report that it is in fact a friendly guide to the religious heritage of a great proportion of the peoples of the earth.
Nov. 21, 1964, was a momentous day at the Second Vatican Council, which had begun its work in 1962. Three of its eventual 16 documents were issued that day by Blessed Paul VI in union with all the Catholic bishops of the world. Let us look, from a perspective of 50 years, at two of them: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and the Decree on Ecumenism.
It comes up every three years, and every six years it coincides with a presidential or state election. I'm referring to this Sunday's Gospel passage, Matthew 22: 15-21, in which Jesus taught us to "repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God," and thereby established the principle of separation of church and state.
In Judaism, the most solemn time of the year is almost here. Wikipedia tells us: "Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of humanity's role in God's world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram's horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a 'sweet new year.'" This year Rosh Hashanah ("Head of the Year") begins at sunset on Wednesday, Sept. 24, and continues on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 25 and 26. The new year to be entered is Annum Mundi (Year of the World) 5775, that is, from the beginning of God's creation.
The last column was in a literary vein, and now I would like to recommend a new memoir: Monastery to Matrimony by Mary Ann Weakley, a frank and moving account of the author’s experience of religious life in a diocese bordering ours from the 1950s to the 1970s. (Full disclosure: Mary Ann is my cousin.) Obviously, the author left religious life; be assured that the book is written with a sense of tremendous respect for her religious community, religious life, and Catholicism in general.
Sunday, August 3, is the 50th anniversary of the death, in Milledgeville, Georgia, at age 39, of Mary Flannery O’Connor, a singular writer.
Flannery O’Connor’s novels and short stories are the fruit of her reflection on her Catholic Christian faith and her assessment of life as it was lived in the South: “While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted,” she remarked. One can reflect on such haunting in the short story “Parker’s Back,” which refers, not to the return of someone named Parker, but rather to a tattoo on Parker’s anatomical back. Race is a theme in many of her stories, and the ironies she plumbs are rich.
Imagine that two groups of Christians need to come together, and that the mediator is a non-Christian community. Does it seem strange that things should occur in this way?